Classic film noir makes a strong showing on Blu-ray this week, as a couple masterpieces of the genre finally appear on the format. Some newer movies are available too, of course, if the prospect of black & white scares you.
‘Philomena‘ – Even if the movie never stood a chance of winning any of the Oscars it was nominated for earlier this year, it’s nice to see Stephen Frears be relevant again. The director has made a number of terrific films in his career, yet is rarely thought of in the ranks of auteurs. (Admittedly, he’s made some duds as well.) This one was written by star Steve Coogan, who takes a dramatic turn as a reporter working on a human interest story about an elderly woman (Judi Dench) searching for the son stolen from her decades earlier.
‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty‘ – Ben Stiller’s latest directorial effort was promoted as the family event movie of the Christmas season. Despite generally supportive reviews, it didn’t make quite as big a splash as the studio hoped. Honestly, I’d forgotten about it until seeing it listed here. It has to be better than those awful ‘Night at the Museum’ movies, doesn’t it?
‘Ride Along‘ – After years of Hollywood trying to make him happen, it looks like comedian Kevin Hart finally got his wish to be a proper movie star. All it took was a generic buddy-cop action comedy in which he’s paired up with a grumpy Ice Cube. Yes, that’s the same Ice Cube who infamously sang “Fuck the Police” in an impassioned, angry rant against police harassment and brutality, now starring as a lovably cranky cop who jokes about beating people up. The audiences that made a big hit out of this movie were apparently unaware of the concept of irony.
‘The Nut Job‘ – A bunch of squirrels plan a heist on a nut store in a lame animated comedy that has basically the same plot as ‘Over the Hedge’. It’s in 3D. Whoop-de-doo.
‘Black Nativity‘ – No, you’ve got the wrong movie. You’re thinking of ‘The Best Man Holiday’. This is a different one. This one’s a musical with gospel singing and Forest Whitaker.
‘The Invisible Woman‘ – The title is metaphorical. It’s not a Syfy Channel flick or a ‘Fantastic Four’ spin-off. Ralph Fiennes follows up his directorial debut ‘Coriolanus‘ with a period piece about the woman (Felicity Jones) who had a secret affair with author Charles Dickens (Fiennes). Reviews were mixed.
‘Great Expectations‘ – Speaking of Dickens and Ralph Fiennes, the actor also appeared as Magwitch in the latest adaptation of ‘Great Expectations’. Helena Bonham Carter plays Miss Havisham. Considering that I’d never heard a single word about the existence of this movie until the Blu-ray release, that’s probably not a promising sign. When I first saw the listing, I assumed that it was Alfonso Cuaron’s flawed but interesting 1998 version with Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow. Instead, this one was helmed by another ‘Harry Potter’ director, Mike Newell.
Here comes the noir. The two must-own titles of the week are catalog releases of Billy Wilder’s masterful ‘Double Indemnity‘ and Orson Welles’ ‘Touch of Evil‘. The latter includes three versions of the film: the original theatrical cut that was compromised by studio meddling, an unfinished “Preview” cut, and the 1998 reconstruction based on Welles’ detailed complaint memo to the studio.
If not quite as famous, Douglas Sirk’s 1948 noir ‘Sleep, My Love‘ also hits Blu-ray courtesy of Olive Films.
Fans of Lars von Trier will often cite ‘Breaking the Waves‘ as the director’s masterpiece. I am not a fan of Lars von Trier and have extremely little patience for his misogyny, which is in perhaps its fullest flourish with this tale of a mentally incompetent woman (a staple of von Trier’s cinematic output) ordered by God to become a slut so that her perverted, paraplegic husband can get off listening to her stories about having sex with other men. Needless to say, the film is divisive. If you want to decide for yourself, the Criterion Collection makes a case for it. I choose to pass.
The first feature-length film by surrealist Czech animator Jan Švankmajer, his 1988 ‘Alice‘ is a very loose retelling of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ that blends live action with stop-motion animation. At the time of this writing, I’m having trouble finding much information on the domestic Blu-ray release from First Run Features in comparison to the supplement-packed edition that was released in the UK a few years ago by BFI.
Presumably intended to piggyback off ‘Walter Mitty’, Universal offers Ben Stiller’s directorial debut, the Gen-X rom-com/statement piece ‘Reality Bites‘. Also dredged up from the dank depths of the Universal archive is Kevin Smith’s dopey comedy ‘Mallrats‘, which should be met with great enthusiasm by the movie’s half dozen rabid fans.
I’m sure that I’ve neglected to mention some important title that you’re very excited to see released this week. Tell me what I’ve missed in the Comments below.